Fixing slow play

Nearly every day, I read or hear reports concerning slow play in golf. Having played the game for nearly 50 years, I can attest that slow play is indeed one of the most frustrating parts of the game. And over those years, I have discovered the many causes (and many solutions) to this bane of the game.


Golf clubs/courses themselves are to blame for many aspects of slow play.  Specifically, decisions made by the Board/Committee/Superintendents.

ROUGH TOO LONG: In an attempt to mimic/reproduce the challenge of some of the world-famous “As seen on TV” tracks (or to create a visual spectacle), courses will grow their rough to ridiculous heights. As a result, lost balls take much longer to find (or re-play). It also slows down play as golfers try to hack their way out. Yes, it’s ok to have rough (especially if it is the main defence of your course) but keep it to a level where your golfers can at least find the ball.

GREENS TOO FAST: A five-year research project by the USGA found a correlation between green speed, pace of play, turf health and overall round enjoyment. An increase of one foot in Stimpmeter reading resulted in an increase of 6.39 seconds per green per player. In some instances, the increase in time spent per player per green resulted in an increase of as much as 30 minutes per round for a one-foot increase in green speed (25 seconds per player per green). Overall, playing experience ratings decreased as green speeds increased. So keep your greens at a playable level.

COURSE TOO LONG, TOO HARD: Courses have gotten longer over the years. So, setting up your course from the tips not only makes it longer to walk, but also more difficult for the average golfer—thus resulting in more swings/shots required. Putting your pins/holes in ridiculous locations, adding unnecessary hazards/obstacles and narrowing your fairways can all lead to longer round times.

TOO LITTLE REGULATION: There are a variety of tools available to manage slow play. From a good old-fashioned marshal, to Tag/Swipe systems, to GPS trackers to tee-time interval software, there is no shortage of ways to manage course flow. They are all worth investigating.


While some golfers assume that it is always “someone else” who plays too slowly, in reality, many of you are actually part of the problem.

Here are some ways that you can speed up your round.

BE EARLY TO THE TEE: Make it a point to be at the first tee at least 5-10 minutes before your scheduled tee time.

PLAY WITHIN YOURSELF: When given the choice (on a non-comp day), play the set of tees that is most suited to your game. Dispose of the ego, and skip the Tiger Tees. You will have more fun, lose fewer balls, and play a lot quicker.

PLAY READY GOLF: Except in Match Play, “honours” are a thing of the past. If the fairway/green is clear ahead, then someone in your group should already be hitting. After hitting, walk briskly to your ball.  On the way, think about the next shot. Estimate the distance or club selection. Be ready to hit immediately. Limit your practice swings/pre-shot routine to a reasonable level. If you are ready to play (and others are still walking to their ball), and it is safe to do so, then hit.

WATCH EVERY SHOT, UNTIL IT STOPS: Lost balls are a main contributor to slow play. So, when you hit your ball, watch the ball UNTIL IT STOPS MOVING. This guarantees that you will never have to say “I thought I saw it go here somewhere.” Then, do the same for EVERY BALL IN YOUR GROUP. You will be amazed how much quicker it is for your group to find a ball when there are eight eyes tracking it. If a wayward ball finds the rough/trees, etc, then immediately pick a landmark (small bush, tree, discolouration, rock, etc) and note it aloud to your playing partners. And if there is any doubt, never, EVER say “Ahhh, we SHOULD be able to find it…”. Just hit a provisional.

PARK YOUR BUGGY/BAG APPROPRIATELY: When sharing a cart, don’t wait for your partner to hit before going to your ball. Hop out with a few clubs (and a rangefinder, if you have one) and walk to your own ball while they play. When on or near the green, you should always park your cart/buggy on the side of the green which is closest to the next tee. Never leave it at the front of the green, or on the wrong side. The goal should always be to get to the next tee as efficiently and quickly as possible. If necessary (i.e. in a bunker), take multiple clubs with you (i.e. a wedge and your putter, etc.)

BUNKER PLAY: If your partner needs to play from a bunker, it may be advantageous to let them play first, as the rest of you can then play while he/she rakes up. If two players are in the bunker, then it may be quicker if one offers to rake up for both. If a partner skulls a shot over the green, then offer to rake the bunker for them while they move to their next shot.   

READ THE GREEN: Begin estimating the slopes/breaks for putt BEFORE you reach the green.  Then, when putting, determine/confirm the speed/break while your partners are playing their shots. When it is your turn, you should be ready to putt immediately. If you miss a putt, don’t stand there fuming. Watch the ball as it goes past the hole (to determine the break for your next putt) and quickly prepare for your next shot.

KEEP UP: The old rule rings true: keep up with the group ahead, not just ahead of the group behind. If you fall behind, have a player in your group putt out, then hurry to the next tee while the others are putting. If you are falling well behind, then let the group behind hit up or play through. And when marking the scorecard, do it at the next tee, not the green.

PICK UP: If you are out of a hole, and the comp allows it, then pick up and move on.

HAVE FUN: Look, I’m not asking you to rush through your game willy nilly. Remember, golf is a game to be savoured and enjoyed. But if we all take some of these pointers on to the course, then we can all enjoy the game together.

As always, I’d love to hear your tips as well.

See you on the fairways

Richard Fellner

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